Quoted from Psalm 22:1.
“Eli, Eli.” This is Hebrew, while the Eloi, Eloi, of Mark 15:34 is Aramaic. Matthew wrote in Hebrew, but beyond that it seems most likely that Jesus originally spoke these words in Hebrew (see commentary on Mark 15:34). [For more about Matthew originally writing his Gospel in Hebrew, see commentary on Matthew 3:3].
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is sometimes taught that God forsook Jesus, and that He did so because Jesus became sin. That is simply not true. First, God did not forsake Jesus, the Scripture clearly states that Jesus was doing God’s will and could have even had 72,000 angels to help him if he wanted (Matt. 26:53). At the time of the crucifixion, “God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19). Furthermore, God does not leave us when we sin. If there is any truth that is central to Christianity, it is that God loves sinners and stays with us even when we do sin. Even if Jesus did “become sin,” God would have stayed with him just like He stays with us when we sin. Also, Jesus did not “become sin,” as if he could somehow embody sin. He became a “sin offering,” and was the completion and fulfillment of all the sin offerings that had gone before him that could not actually take away sin. [For more on Jesus becoming a sin offering, see commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:21].
In one of the greatest examples of love the world has ever seen, Jesus continued to try to demonstrate to people that he was the promised Messiah even from the cross. One notable way he did that was by quoting at least the first and last verse of Psalm 22, a Psalm of David and one that his audience would have known well. Psalm 22 is a Messianic Psalm, and one that clearly portrays the crucifixion and what was going on in those circumstances.
For one thing, it certainly looked like Jesus had been forsaken by God, even though he certainly knew he had not been (cp. Ps. 22:1).
Jesus knew that godly people standing within hearing distance would be able to mentally recite much or all of Psalm 22 and then see how it was being fulfilled right before their very eyes, and then would also be able to describe that to others and spread the news about him. Thus, with his dying words Jesus was trying very hard to reach a lost world and reconcile them to God.
As Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, there is every reason to believe that his audience recognized what he was quoting, even if he only quoted the first and last verse. (It is noteworthy that Charles Spurgeon thinks that Psalm 22, “may have been actually repeated word by word by our Lord when hanging on the tree” (The Treasury of David, introductory notes on Psalm 22)).
By the time of Jesus, the Jews read from the Old Testament in the synagogue every week (Acts 13:15; Acts 15:21; see also Luke 4 when Jesus read from Isaiah). After Nebuchadnezzar burned the Temple to the ground and thus brought the sacrifices and rituals associated with the Temple to an end, the reading and study of the Old Testament became much more central to Judaism. Even after the Temple was rebuilt in the Persian period, the attention to reading and study of the Old Testament that had become part of the synagogue service never stopped. Since the average Jew did not have a copy of much if any of the Old Testament, it was important to them to go to the synagogue to hear it read and discussed. Furthermore, the Jews encouraged each other to memorize the Scriptures even starting from the time they were children (Deut. 6:1-5). This meant that every devoted Jew had more than a passing familiarity with the Psalms.
Another way we can see that the Jews were very familiar with the Psalms is from how many times Psalms are quoted in the New Testament, and quoted as if the audience was familiar with them (Matt. 4:6 [Luke 4:10, 11]; Matt. 5:5; 13:35; 21:9; 23:39 [Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; 19:38; John 12:13]; Matt. 21:16, 42 [Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7]; Matt. 22:44 [Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; 1 Cor. 15:27; Heb. 1:13]; Matt. 27:46 [Mark 15:34]; Luke 23:46; John 2:17; 6:31; 10:34; 13:18; 15:25; 19:24; Acts 1:20; 2:25-28; 2:30-31; 4:25-26; 13:22, 35; Rom. 2:6; 3:4, 10-14, 18; 4:7-8; 8:36; 10:18; 11:9-10; 15:3, 11; 1 Cor. 3:20; 10:26; 15:27; 2 Cor. 4:13; 9:9; Eph. 4:8, 26; Heb. 1:5-13; 2:6-8, 12; 3:7-11, 15; 4:3, 5, 7; 5:5-6; 7:17, 21; 10:5-9; 13:6; 1 Pet. 2:7; 3:10-12; and Rev. 2:26-27).
This large number of quotations shows that, as well as comforting and encouraging verses, the Psalms contained verses that gave important information about the Messiah and the Kingdom, something that would not have been lost on the Jewish audience, nor on the converts who came to Judaism.
The words that Jesus spoke from the cross were not the words of a man who had been forsaken by God. They were Jesus’ last possible attempt to reach the world with the Word of Truth.
“ninth hour.” About our 3 PM. Both the Jews and Romans divided the day into 12 hours, starting at daylight, roughly 6 AM. [For the hours of the day and the watches of the night, see commentary on Mark 6:48].
Jesus' words from the cross, (Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,) have confused Bible students for years. Sadly, many of them think that Jesus either was, or thought he was, forsaken by God. This teaching by John Schoenheit explains that Jesus Christ was reciting part of Psalm 22, trying to jar people into understanding that prophecy was being fulfilled before their eyes.